Central SMT

Driving at EK Depot

Contributed by Eddie Hoey, now resident in Cambridgeshire, December 2009.

1969 - the year I was taught by this venerable company to drive a bus. At the age of twenty-one, having had a pretty sheltered upbringing, was I in for a shock. In the course of learning to drive a car, my father had taught me to double de-clutch, mainly due to failed synchro on the gearbox of the family car. So off I went, to have explained to me the delicate job of carrying passengers for 'Hire and Reward'. In other words, to drive a PSV, double-deck vehicle. If my memory serves me right, B2, our training bus, was about the same age as me; but our instructor, Aibie, was many, many years older. Oh boy, did he teach us in his old, almost military way. I think his methods should be brought back now!

So, the big day came: Test Day. I passed. Off to my home depot in East Kilbride, where I had grown up. A whole week of route learning, mixed with delivering bare chassis from Airbles depot to Alexander's in Falkirk to have bodies fitted to T92-95 (well that's the one's we got at E.K.). Yes, that IS the Leopard with the brake pedal like a brick. So it was on to the reality of driving with passengers, and not always with Bristols. We had to drive Leyland PD4s as well. Oh boy, after a Bristol, a PD4 does roll round corners. That's ok if you are expecting it, but is a little bit scary the first time. There was one particular corner, at Burnside Station, when as you turned right under the railway bridge, you could actually scrape the rear platform on the ground! Oh boy.

But enough of the nostalgia. What was it really like working with a company that almost to the end finished every public notice - yes, even the ones extolling the virtues of Summer day tours - with the inimitable "BY ORDER". Even the job application started with "I beg to apply for the position of_________". The whole management system was archaic, and anyone called in to see the boss was "guilty until proved guilty, no matter what you or any witnesses say". In one instance I know of, a conductor was convinced he was having shortages taken from his wages when his pay-ins were spot on. Now, at that time, you were not allowed to 'prove' your waybill. You entered the starting figures and the closing figures, but were not allowed to subtract to find the difference. To attempt to back up his case, one of the union shop stewards calculated the cash to be paid in, checked the cash into the night safe, and when it was shown to be short, approached the boss. He was given a written warning, and nothing was done about the cash office staff. Very fair!

We drove the worst vehicles in the whole of the SBG. We kept hearing that we preferred manual crash gearboxes, and yet I have never met anyone who was asked what we would prefer to drive. OK, we had many good laughs and there were many characters who live on in my memories of Central, but believe me, it was not all rosy. I'm not surprised they were the most profitable, because they refused to spend any money to modernise, and the staff along with the travelling public were the ones who suffered.